Image: Bob Child/AP
You had to figure that in the aftermath of a rare Connecticut loss to Notre Dame this past Saturday, somebody on the Huskies’ schedule was going to pay and last night at the XL Center it was Providence.
After a slow start that saw Providence down only six at the 13 minute mark of the first half (15-9), the Huskies went on a 33-8 run for the remainder of the half and a 48-17 halftime lead. Sophomore guard Bria Hartley continued to be the leader of the UConn offense, almost outscoring the Friars herself, scoring 15 points in the half, on 5-5 shooting (2-2 from three) from the floor and 3-3 from the foul line. She added two assists while committing zero turnovers.
Overall, the Huskies played perhaps their most thorough, complete, well-balanced game of the season. Offensively, every player scored, and the team made 65 percent of their shots. Missed foul shots that hurt versus Notre Dame were replaced by a 19-22 foul shooting performance. The team committed only 16 turnovers, with no one committing more than two. They assisted on 29 of 36 baskets, with Kelly Faris and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis having six each, and Stefanie Dolson adding five from the post. They were patient, they were aggressive, and they moved the ball extremely well according to coach Geno Auriemma.
“We waited a little bit to shoot the threes we’ve been shooting a little bit earlier,” he said. “You know we gave ourselves a chance to get more things done in the lane. And it did happen for us obviously. It was a really good effort by everybody. It was one of those wins where your team feels really good about the game because everybody had a little bit of a hand in it.”
Equally impressive though, was the defensive effort and intensity supplied by the Huskies. Auriemma, commented postgame that he was disappointed that the media and fans had not either noticed or commented on the excellent defense played at Notre Dame, as the Irish were held well below their scoring average.
Last night, the Huskies seemed to turn it up even another notch, and while the steals and blocks totals were not anything spectacular, it was the way the Huskies moved and hustled that stifled Providence. The Friars ended the game with 30 percent field goal shooting (26.9 percent in the second half, and made only one of 16 three point attempts. If you remove forward Lauren “Lady” Okafor, who had a nice game making all four of her shot attempt, from those numbers and the percentage drops to 24. UConn rebounded with authority, racking up a 42-18 advantage, and also forced 25 turnovers by Providence.
Auriemma had to be pleased with the fact the effort and intensity included not just minutes, but production from some of the bench players, notably freshmen Brianna Banks and Kiah Stokes, who had lost playing some time due to practice issues. Banks and Stokes combined for 13 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s been kind of hard because you’re not used to all the hard work day after day,” Banks commented. “You may go seven days throughout the week. So, it’s kind of hard on your body, but after a while you get the hang of things and start getting used to the routines.”
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who seemed to take the Notre Dame loss particularly hard, after her miscue helped lead to overtime on Saturday, showed that the talented freshman has no memory or ill effects from that game, and played an outstanding all around game. Playing a team high 29 minutes, Mosqueda-Lewis scored a very nice 13 points, but it was her floor game that was exciting to watch, as she had a game-high eight rebounds, while also adding one block and two steals. She showed she is one of the stronger “entry pass makers” on the team in getting her six assists, putting the big girls in position for layups several times.
Overall, it was an outstanding performance by the Huskies, as they protected Auriemma’s job, which he joked about with the media. Next up for UConn is a road trip to Philadelphia and Villanova, one of the more difficult games on the schedule, due to the style of play of coach Harry Perretta’s Wildcats. As Auriemma said, “it’s like getting a toy gun for Christmas, and finding out it only shoots backwards and hits you in the eye.”